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00000179-65ef-d8e2-a9ff-f5ef8d430000The Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeast Washington was home to Native Americans and later to settlers. It turned into an top-secret military workhorse during World War II and the Cold War. Now, it’s one of the most pressing and complex environmental cleanup challenges humanity is facing in the world.This remote area in southeast Washington is where the federal government made plutonium for bombs during WWII and the Cold War. It’s now home to some of the most toxic contamination on earth, a witch’s brew of chemicals, radioactive waste and defunct structures. In central Hanford, leaking underground tanks full of radioactive sludge await a permanent solution. Meanwhile, a massive $12 billion waste treatment plant, designed to bind up that tank waste into more stable glass logs, has a troubled history.00000179-65ef-d8e2-a9ff-f5ef8d440000Anna King is public radio's correspondent in Richland, Washington, covering the seemingly endless complexities of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

Hanford Workers Say They’re Not Satisfied With Working Conditions At Tank Farms

Anna King
Northwest News Network

Hanford Nuclear Reservation workers who are worried about getting sick turned out in droves for a public meeting Wednesday night in Richland organized by a Seattle-area watchdog called Hanford Challenge.

About 45 people squished into tight rows in a small conference room

Some of the nuclear site employees claim the U.S. Department of Energy and its contractors aren’t doing enough to protect them from hazardous and smelly chemical vapors. Since the early spring, there’s been a spate of workers who’ve sought medical attention after working in or near the tank farms. That’s where the government stores 56 million gallons of radioactive waste.

Pete Nicacio, a manager for union plumbers and steamfitters at the site, said he wants 24-hour, independent air testing at Hanford.

“I know there are things we can do for our guys out there and it’s time to do it," he said. "And I’m tired of having people say there is nothing going on out there.”

Last week, federal Energy officials told reporters that all their tests show that worker conditions are safe according to federal standards.

In other Hanford news, the U.S. Department of Energy and Washington state agreed to extend talks another 70 days over how best to clean up the radioactive waste tanks.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.